Authenticity as a moral idealHerder put forward the idea that each of us has an original way of being human. Each person has his or her own ‘measure’ is his way of putting it. This idea has entered very deep into modern consciousness. It is also new. Before the late eighteenth century no one thought that the differences between human beings had this kind of moral significance. There is a certain way of being that is my way. I am called upon to live my life in this way, and not in imitation of anyone else’s. But this gives a new importance to being true to myself. If I am not, I miss the point of my life, I miss what being human is for me. This is the powerful moral ideal that has come down to us. It accords crucial importance to a kind of contact with myself, with my own inner nature, which it sees as in danger of being lost, partly through the pressures toward outward conformity, but also because in taking an instrumental stance to myself, I may have lost the capacity to listen to this inner voice. And then it greatly increases the importance of this self-contact by introducing the principle of originality: each of our voices has something of its own to say. Not only should I not fit my life to the demands of external conformity; I can’t even find the model to live by outside myself. I can only find it within.
The Ethics of Authenticity
Dec. 4, 2013, at 9:57am
I’m not the type The Sinner’s Guide to Natural Family Planning was written for. I mean, I’m a sinner, but I don’t hate NFP. I’ve never struggled with it or resented it. Jules and I had so much happy exposure to Dietrich von Hildebrand and John Paul II before we got married that we were never even tempted to use artificial contraception. We saw too clearly that it’s a destroyer of life and love.
We did fall under the influence of Providentialism for a little while. But it wasn’t long before we detected its error. It isn’t the teaching of the Church; it’s a rigorist “adding to the law.” The actual law is much more merciful and sympathetic to the real challenges and stresses of family life …continue reading
Dec. 3, 2013, at 3:26am
In his homily during his daily mass the other day, Pope Francis warned against the spirit of worldliness. He called it “a fruit of the devil who makes his way forward with the spirit of secular worldliness” (http://www.romereports.com/palio/pope-take-note-adolescent-progressivism-protects-human-sacrifices-english-11629.html#.UouFmsScdya). These are strong words, and we have seen so far that Pope Francis is not afraid of calling the devil by his name nor speaking about the momentous choices each one of us has to make.
But is the “world” really that dangerous? What about being open to the world as Vatican II proposed? Should we be afraid of “the world” and retire to our little Catholic …continue reading
Dec. 1, 2013, at 8:31am
Making my way through Pope Francis' Apostolic Exhortation, I come across passage after passage that lifts my personalist heart. Here is just one:
We become fully human when we become more than human, when we let God bring us beyond ourselves in order to attain the fullest truth of our being.
This is the kernel of the mystery of our being-as-persons. The roots of our being lie beyond ourselves, in God. The fulfillment of our being lies in God, through others.
Nov. 29, 2013, at 11:01am
A recent gathering with Jacques Philippe ended with a question-and-answer session. One question especially caught my attention. I’m certain this participant spoke for large numbers of us. How, she wanted to know, are we supposed to reconcile “Accept your failures” with “Be perfect”?
This conundrum is a stumbling block to many—they’d like to take to heart the encouraging words of people like Fr. Jacques and Pope Francis, who insist that we can enjoy peace and an unshakeable interior freedom despite our weakness and moral failures. But just how do you do that, without shrugging off divine and moral law--in this case, a clear directive, from the lips of Christ Himself, to "be perfect"?
Nov. 21, 2013, at 8:51pm
Jacques Philippe, author of Interior Freedom, Searching for and Maintaining Peace, Time for God, and several other life-changing books, was in town last week.
Below are some of his thoughts (reconstructed from my notes) on living in the present moment. (You'll have to imagine the endearing accent and the occasional pauses to laugh happily whenever he cracked himself up. I got the sense that years of being a spiritual director give a person a lively sense of how ridiculous human beings can be, as well as an enduring compassion.)
* * * * *
Living in the present moment means entrusting the past to God’s mercy, the future to …continue reading
Nov. 17, 2013, at 11:11pm
After all my criticism of Eugenio Sclafari, who talked to the Pope without taking notes or recording the conversation and then published the results as an “interview,” I find myself doing something just a little bit similar.
What you are about to read is based on a bunch of notes scribbled at breakneck speed—and since I don’t understand the speaker’s native French, they’re based on a simultaneous translation. It wasn’t a conversation, but a series of talks. The speaker is Jacques Philippe, who, astonishingly enough, addressed us at my parish, Christ the King,
ten minutes away from my house, this weekend. He was the centerpiece of our parish’s women’s retreat. The theme was …continue reading
Nov. 15, 2013, at 4:01am
While in Rome last month, we picked up a book by Thomas Cahill: Pope John XXIII, A LIfe.
Its first pages include two quotations that jump right out at a personalist. The first is by the French theologian Yves Congar about the late Pope: "He loved people more than power."
The second is from the Pope's own remarks at the opening of Vatican II [my emphasis]:
In the daily exercise of our pastoral ministry—and much to our sorrow—we must sometimes listen to those who, consumed with zeal, have scant judgment or balance...To such ones the modern world is nothing but betrayal and ruin. They claim that this age is far worse than previous ages, and they rant on as if they had learned nothing at all …
Nov. 11, 2013, at 1:58pm
The book I translated two summers ago (and wrote about here) is finally available, from Scepter, as both a "real" book and an ebook. In English, it's called Self-Esteem Without Selfishness: Increasing Your Capacity for Love and can be ordered here (or, as they say, wherever fine books are sold). Much wisdom from Dietrich von Hildebrand, Edith Stein, C. S. Lewis, and other luminaries, and many valuable, original, and strikingly practical insights from the author, Fr. Michel Esparza.
And more good news: it looks like the English translation will now be used as the basis for a Dutch edition!
Nov. 10, 2013, at 1:29am
I fully expected to spend this decade in a state of bitterly nostalgic melancholy. I had planned to squander it sitting helplessly by as my babies all got older, lamenting my inability to make them stop.
I’ve been happily surprised to find it hasn’t been like that at all (or only occasionally).
Maybe I speak too soon: my youngest is only five, still happy to sit on my lap and listen to “Big Y, little y, yawning yellow yak. Young Yolanda Yorgensen is yelling on his back.” I reserve the right to eat my words when the day comes that he’s too cool for such things.
But I find myself unexpectedly content to be enjoying my eight children right now, precisely at their present ages. It’s not …continue reading
Nov. 3, 2013, at 6:19pm
Last week, we talked about Pope Franics' dismissal of proselytism as “solemn nonsense.” Many misunderstood. They fell into three groups:
“What a relief! Our Pope says we can keep quiet about religion! No more uncomfortable conversations about faith and morality! We’re called to sit back, make a reasonable attempt to be pleasant, and watch as the vast throngs (who will inevitably notice how pleasant we’ve become) spontaneously sign up for …
Oct. 28, 2013, at 3:52am
To speak about faith becoming an ideology seems to be a contradiction in terms, at least to the faithful Catholic. For ideology is a construction, a system covering up and closing one off from reality while giving the false impression of having an explanation for everything; faith, however, is based on truth as revealed by God and is also accessible to reason (in contrast, any kind of belief is called an “ideology” these days, the underlying supposition being that truth cannot be known anyway). Isn’t faith a gift from God, an infusion of the Holy Spirit, one of the three theological virtues, based on the revelation of the Most High which therefore cannot be false? Revelation itself …continue reading
Oct. 25, 2013, at 12:34pm
In a recent interview, the story goes, Pope Francis dismissed proselytism as “solemn nonsense.”
That “interview,” it turned out, was an 89-year-old atheist’s after-the-fact reconstruction of his recollection of a conversation he recorded with neither gizmo nor even pen and paper. A grain of salt is clearly indicated.
But suppose the Pope did say this, or something like it? Has the New Evangelization been declared obsolete and recalled, like an old-fashioned car seat? Have we al been ordered to convert to indifferentism?
No, not by a long shot. Alarmed parties are directed to Pope Emeritus Benedict, no fan of the dictatorship of relativism, who has said that the Church grows not by …continue reading
Oct. 23, 2013, at 10:42am
Last night friends Joseph and Marie Cabaud Meaney hosted us for a lovely dinner at their home outside of Rome. It was so wonderful to see familiar faces, and to feel their goodness and friendship. Joseph works for Human Life International. Marie studied with us in Liechtenstein, and taught for awhile with Jules at Villanova. She's an expert on Simone Weil, and writes for us sometimes. Her father and mother were in the von Hildebrand circle in NYC. I wish I had thought to take a picture!
We got back to our apartment late. Then my alarm went off at 6:15. This is not normal for me. A cup of coffee, and Jules and I were off on bicycles through the still-dark streets of Rome, letting the boys …continue reading
Oct. 16, 2013, at 7:40am
I read Manalive by G.K. Chesterton for the first time last week, and recognized in it a theme that has been on my mind lately. A character says of the protagonist, Innocent Smith
It is just because he does not want to steal, because he does not covet his neighbour's goods, that he has captured the trick (oh, how we all long for it!), the trick of coveting his own goods. It is just because he does not want to commit adultery that he achieves the romance of sex; it is just because he loves one wife that he has a hundred honeymoons.
It occurred to me that this is a wonderful description of gratitude. Innocent Smith has “captured the trick…of coveting his own goods,” and it has obviously …continue reading
Oct. 14, 2013, at 6:44am
One of the sharpest differences between the political left and right is their respective views of private property. For the (extreme) left, it's the root of social evil, the cause of social conflict. For the (extreme) right it's sacred and absolute.
For the Church, of course, it's neither/nor.
Just as we are, as individuals, radically our own, and yet, almost constituted by our relation to others and fulfilled only by making a sincere gift of ourselves in love, our property both belongs to us and is destined for others.
This came home to me in a new way visiting some of the great English estates this month. We toured Alnwick Castle, ancient seat of the Dukes of Northumberland.
Its library …continue reading
Oct. 12, 2013, at 11:26am
October 12th is Dietrich von Hildebrand's birthday. Yesterday, Jules and I visited the Florentine villa where he was born in 1889. The imposing home—a former convent called San Francesco—is still owned by nieces and nephews of von Hildebrand's, who rent it out to foreigners.
Outside on the gate you can see a relief of Adolf von Hildebrand, the renown German sculptor, Dietrich's father.
As we were peering eagerly though the fence, an attractive and friendly-looking youngish woman came out. We asked her whether we might go in. She—plainly an American—said, kindly, "I'm sorry; it's private." I told her we are devotees of the philosopher Dietrich von Hildebrand, and that we'd spent a …continue reading
Oct. 9, 2013, at 12:30am
I’ve been reading Calah Alexander lately, and I'm hooked.
She makes a point in a recent blog post which cleared something up for me.
Here’s the conundrum: How do you convey the Good News to people who don’t believe in sin? If they don’t think there’s any such thing, what exactly are you offering salvation from? You can’t very well walk up to someone who rejects the whole premise and announce, “Guess what?! Good news! Your sins are forgiven!”
we don’t just lack repentence; we lack even a “sense of sin”—the sense that there’s something to repent of.
Janet Smith runs into the same problem, as she explains in Are We Obsessed?, at First Things:
Oct. 1, 2013, at 8:22pm
A few days ago, this improvised prayer was going around facebook (where I do much of my philosophical research):
Heavenly Father, Help us remember that the jerk who cut us off in traffic last night is a single mother who worked nine hours that day and is rushing home to cook dinner, help with homework, do the laundry and spend a few precious moments with her children. …
Remind us, Lord, that the scary looking bum, begging for money in the same spot every day (who really ought to get a job!) is a slave to addictions that we can only imagine in our worst nightmares.
Help us to remember that the old couple walking annoyingly slow[ly] through the store aisles and blocking our shopping …
Oct. 1, 2013, at 7:46am
I usually have an audio book playing low beside me during the night. Improbable as it may sound to those unafflicted with insomnia issues, I find it helps me sleep. My favorite is Whittaker Chambers' Witness. The narrator has a clear, calm, steady voice, and the content of the book is worth pondering and re-pondering.
Last night, during a period of wakefulness, a particular passage leaped out at me afresh.
At this point in the narrative, Chambers is around 40 years old. He has left the Communist party and embraced Quakerism. Living for the first time a conscious and discipled religious existence, he experiences a human completeness that had eluded him to that point. Looking around him, he …continue reading
Sep. 24, 2013, at 10:25pm
When my husband mentions that he teaches business ethics, one occasional comeback is, “Isn’t that an oxymoron?”
In fact, it’s not. Business is not an intrinsic evil. And, as the Occupy movement unintentionally made clear, it’s incoherent to bash corporations in general while gobbling up the goods and services they offer so as to enhance your anti-business hipster chic.
But teaching ethics to MBA types has its challenges. It’s not that they can’t understand truths about good and evil, virtue and vice. It’s just that they can’t hear those truths at all—unless you express them in a language they can understand. You can’t be preachy,
but not only that—you can’t express anything in a way …continue reading